Step By Step Guide To Running A Trial
Guide to Running a Traffic Offence Trial.
- We are specialist motoring lawyers so you might find it odd that we are willing to give away so much information and assistance free of charge.
- We don’t feel the need to be protective of our accumulated knowledge.
- We are more than willing to share it with you.
- We believe that when you require our assistance you will come to us because, as one of the only specialist motoring solicitors in the UK, we out perform the vast majority of high street legal practices and excel at traffic law cases.
- Sometimes it isn’t appropriate to represent yourself.
- We hope that when you need representation for a motoring offence you will come to us and ask for our specialist assistance. In return we are more than happy to provide you with all the knowledge that you need in order to represent yourself if your case is straightforward.
- We are so confident in our motoring law expertise that we are prepared to trust you to make an informed decision whether or not you require our assistance with your case
Success rates in Court for drivers who represent themselves are much lower that for those with expert representation.
Running a trial in the Magistrates Court
Who has to prove what?
- It is up to the prosecution to prove their case ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.
This means that they have to prove the allegations made against you ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. In real terms, this means that the prosecution need to be able to convince the Court that you have committed the offence or offences so that the Court is 90%+ satisfied that you have indeed committed the alleged offence/s.
- What does the defendant need to prove?
For most offences the defendant doesn’t have to prove anything – all the defendant needs to do is to cast a ‘reasonable doubt’ – this amounts to a 10%+ doubt that the prosecutors are correct!
- When is the defendant required to prove anything?
In cases where the offence incorporates a ‘statutory defence’, such as failing to provide driver identity which for example you can defend if you can demonstrate that you used reasonable diligence to try to establish who was driving the vehicle at the time of the offence. In this instance, the defendant is required to prove the ‘statutory defence’ on the ‘balance of probabilities’.
- What is ‘Balance of Probabilities?’
When a defendant is required to prove anything in court, they only have to do so ‘on the balance of probabilities’. This basically means that the court needs to accept that your account is more likely than not to be correct. This means that the court needs to be 51%+ satisfied with your account of events. As the defendant you will not be asked to prove your account of events ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.
- Rules for Documentary offences.
Should you be accused of not having the appropriate documents (Insurance, MOT, Licence etc) when you were driving a vehicle, the prosecution only need to prove that you drove the vehicle in a public place in order to prosecute you.
The onus then passes to you to prove ‘on balance of probabilities’ that you had the necessary documentation.
This is because the prosecution would need to ask every insurance company in the country in order to check if you were insured. For this reason it is easier to make you provide proof that you were insured, rather than for the prosecutors to gather evidence that proves that you weren’t.
Can I get free advice from the duty solicitor?
You will only receive legal aid if you are facing an imprisonable offence. Because very few motoring offences carry a prison sentence, you are very unlikely to get legal aid to help you to defend a road traffic allegation.
Court Duty Solicitors are unlikely to offer you free legal advice for the same reason. They only get paid for assisting people who are held in custody or are at risk of a potential prison sentence.
Additionally, Court Duty Solicitors are usually ‘general criminal lawyers’ and as such don’t generally have much traffic law expertise.
If you need advice about your alleged motoring offence please click here to ASK US A FREE QUESTION and find out how we can help you.
The trial process
When you first receive your summons, you should carefully check the following;
- That the alleged offence is an offence known to the law. (This means that it needs to be described within the Road Traffic Acts).
- That the evidence of the prosecutions primary witnesses is attached. For road traffic offences the prosecution do not have to disclose this evidence but they are often willing to do so to enable you to know what the allegations are. Please be cautious however, because some prosecutors will only attach a brief summary of the allegations against you prior to a plea being entered. Prosecutors do this because the moment you plead not guilty to an offence, you start to lose credit in the eyes of the court.
- If you choose to plead guilty to the offence at the earliest opportunity then you will receive a lighter sentence. If you plead not guilty but are subsequently found to be guilty of the offence then you will receive a more severe sentence. The prosecution will try to make you commit to a plea before they offer you primary disclosure of the evidence against you. This is the process of the Magistrates court, and it’s purpose is to offer fast and cheap justice for all.
- Check that the information for your summons was properly laid at the Magistrates court within a six month period from the time of your alleged offence. This doesn’t mean that you must receive the paperwork within six months of the offence, or that the summons has been printed within six months, just that the case information was laid with the Magistrates court within that timeframe. Your summons will have an ‘information laid’ date on it and this needs to be within six months of your offence date in order to be valid. If you have any doubt, the court will confirm this to you.
Consider the evidence.
The first thing you need to decide is whether you accept that you committed the alleged offence? If you disagree with the facts presented or have a statutory defence then you are in a position to defend the allegation.
You can defend a speeding allegation by denying that you were the driver/were speeding/were on a public road etc.
You might want to defend the allegation of failing to provide driver identity by stating that you used reasonable diligence in order to try to establish who was the driver at the time of the offence… this would be a statutory defence.
The Balance and Burden of Proof.
You need to be aware of what the prosecution are required to prove and what you will need to prove.
For most motoring offences, the prosecution are required to prove their case against you beyond reasonable doubt, which equates to about 90%+ certainty that the magistrates agree with them. All you are required to do is to cast a reasonable doubt in the minds of the Magistrates in order for the Magistrates to find you not guilty.
In the case of statutory defences, you are required to prove your case on the ‘balance of probabilities’ which means that the court needs to be 51% or more satisfied that you are right in order to find you not guilty.
In order to be able to successfully challenge complex evidence, you will need to present ‘expert evidence’ in order to be able to cast a doubt. We frequently speak to many drivers who attempt to contest complex speeding allegations with laser or radar evidence on the basis that they disagree with the readings provided…… that is not enough to cast a doubt, you need to substantiate your claim with expert evidence.
Sometimes it is possible to demonstrate to the court that the officer didn’t use the device correctly. If you can’t prove that, then you need to be able to prove that the device wasn’t working correctly.
It is not enough just to say that you didn’t think you were going that fast!
Plead not guilty
Once you have decided that you have a valid defence, or that you don’t agree with the version of events put forwards by the prosecution, you need to indicate your not guilty plea to the court.
Usually you can plead not guilty by post, after which you will be notified of the scheduled court date and when you will need to be present. Make sure that you read all of the court papers carefully when they arrive.
For complex trials, or in instances where there are a number of witnesses who need to give evidence, the court may well list the case for a pre trial review.
If you case is more simple and clear cut, your not guilty plea will be accepted and a trial date will be set.
The Pre-trial review is where the Magistrates court lists your case for trial, bearing in mind the following;
– The number of witnesses for both the defence and prosecution and their availability to attend court.
– The possible need for video or tape player in court for evidence to be viewed.
– Any complex arguments that might well be raised during the trial.
– A timetable for your trial.
On the day of your trial, you should make sure that you arrive at court with plenty of time to spare. Give yourself at least 30 minutes before your case is due to begin.
It is also important to point out that the court isn’t concerned with working around you, but will expect you to work around the court. On the day of your trial, the court has all the authority so whatever happens, remain polite, patient and tolerant at all times.
There will probably be several cases in the schedule to be heard on the same day, and the court will decide the order in which they will be heard.
Bear in mind that you need to create a good impression at all times. If you become angry or impatient then there is a very good chance that the Magistrates will be notified of this by the Court Clerk or Usher and it will affect how the court behaves towards you. Remember to make a good impression during your contact with everyone in the court buildings.
Courts are very busy places and it is important for everyone to wait their turn and remain tolerant of the court process.